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To say Tony Stark had mixed feelings about one Steve Rogers, Captain America, the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan himself, was like saying the Sahara was a little dry.  

It was absolutely a true statement.  It just failed to quite convey the depth and weight of the full reality of the situation.

There was a core foundation to those feelings that had been built on general idolization.  He didn’t feel guilty or embarrassed to admit that Captain America had been one of his childhood heroes.  Tony dared any American who wasn’t destined for a life of crime and disenfranchisement to say that he hadn’t been one of theirs.  He was a regular Underdog-Beats-The-Odds success story, for all that it had ended in a watery grave.  And as much as the bombs that had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had obviously ended the war in Allied favor, Steve had sacrificed himself to prevent that same devastation from happening on American soil.

History had eventually painted over the real man with a larger than life comic book hero. Only the older generation really remembered that there was a real person under Captain America's cowl until his spandex covered ass had landed in the middle of New York City to fight off the alien invasion. That didn't mean that there hadn't been plenty of Americans who'd clung to the ideal without more than words on a page to guide them.

In the Stark household, the real man had never been forgotten.  He’d been a ghost that had lingered between Howard and everyone else, the project that had become a friend that had mutated into an obsession.  The only person that had ever managed to penetrate that barrier had been Margaret ‘Peggy’ Carter.   The pair had taken to late night meetings that inevitably ended in an empty bottle of scotch and stories about Steve Rogers.  It was the only time that Tony could remember being allowed to sit in his father’s office for hours at a time, his questions not only tolerated but welcomed.   

The years had marched on, though, with very little to show for Howard and Peggy’s continuing search for the fallen super soldier.  The failure had taken its toll and those hours of story time had become arguments and accusations until eventually, Peggy stopped coming.  

As an adult, Tony knew that there’d been a lot more to the dark turn life had taken in the Stark mansion over the course of those years.  He had a better understanding of alcoholism and obsession and the way they could tear apart a person’s world.  He knew how hard it was to crawl back out of the holes one could dig themselves.  He knew that his father had been a victim of his own vices, fallible and human and as prone to making his own mistakes as anyone else.  And too damned stubborn to let go or get help.  

As a kid, it had been easier to blame it all on Captain America.  

His teen years had been spent in open rebellion and he’d hated the specter that seemed to loom over his life.  After Howard and Maria had died, he’d had too much grief and too much anger and too much guilt and no healthy way to deal with it.  

If he’d thought about Captain America at all, it had been with disdain and dismissal.  

He’d cut almost all of the funding for arctic exploration except in the areas that had a direct impact on the profitability of Stark Industries.  The son had no intention of following the same downward spiral as the father, especially not for a man he hadn’t even known personally.  And why should he? It wasn’t like he didn’t have plenty to do.  There were things happening for him.  He didn’t have time for someone that had been nothing more than a wedge between him and his father.  

Then life had happened and he’d honestly managed to completely forget that Steve Best-Human-Being-Ever-Apple-of-Howard-Starks-Eye Rogers had ever even existed instead of just pretend that he had. At least until Loki and SHIELD had shown up and dredged it all up again.  

Tony could admit that he’d been caught completely flat-footed.  At least to himself.  If he had to.

It was probably his own fault for letting himself relax into how comfortable his life had gotten with Pepper and a non-weaponized SI.  Faced with the real man and the complicated mess of feelings that came with remembering him, Tony had done what he did best.  He’d deflected and joked and poked and prodded, trying to make sense of it all.

Steve hadn’t taken any of that well.

Tony thought that he could be forgiven for forgetting that Steve wouldn’t have any base knowledge about him and how he reacted to things.  Everyone knew him.  He was the life of every party and all the sordid details of his life and personality had been splashed around the world in high-gloss technicolor for as long as he could remember.  His rapier wit left a trail of hurt feelings and broken hearts littered behind him, but the world applauded him for it.  The hopeless, helpless masses loved to hate him almost as much as they hated to love him.

Even Bruce had known enough to know that the poking and prodding wasn’t malicious, that it was just the only way Tony could work things out and decide how he felt about them.  Everyone knew that Tony had a joke ready for any occasion.  

Everyone except Steve.

To be confronted with such a sanctimonious, self-righteous blow hard and to know that this was the guy his father would rather search for when he could have been attending Tony’s birthday parties and graduations, science fairs and awards, his personal projects and problems… well... It had all settled like sour milk in his stomach.  

But then Captain America had proven to be just as good as his legend.  They’d worked together like they’d been doing it all their lives, like they’d been made to be partners in battle.  And Steve had looked genuinely happy when Tony had actually managed to survive his missile ride into space and the subsequent free fall that had followed.

It muddled up feelings that he’d thought had been settled and suddenly he was confused all over again, this time worse than ever before.

It didn’t help matters that Steve just kept looking at him with a certain expression on his face. It was like he constantly expected Tony to be someone else, someone better.  

Tony knew he looked like his dad.  It didn’t usually bother him.  For all his other faults, his old man had been an attractive devil and it worked out in Tony’s favor to have inherited those genes.  

After the Battle of New York and the shaky peace that he and Steve had managed to reach, Tony was seriously starting to wish he’d taken after his mother instead of having to deal with the constant long looks and double takes.  Even worse, though, were the broken off comments that were obviously not meant for him.

Yeah, he could totally understand how disconcerting it must be, but really, Steve needed to get over it already.

It was the main reason that he’d avoided inviting Steve to move into the Tower with everyone else.  It was just damned uncomfortable to have someone constantly expecting one to be one’s father.  

Pepper had given him an ultimatum, though, backed by Natasha and emphasized by Bruce.  Clint had mostly stayed out of it, but he’d thrown his own two cents in, leaving no doubt that he agreed with them.  Tony supposed that he could only be grateful that Thor was in New Mexico at the moment, otherwise he’d probably have had to face a dose of puppy dog eyes, too.

Apparently it wasn’t fair that Tony had invited everyone else and deliberately left Steve out.  Because obviously life was always supposed to be fair.  Like it was fair that everyone took Steve’s side when Steve didn’t even know there were sides to be taken.

Apparently the rules of fairness only worked when Captain America was involved.

Which was what found him outside a small, depressing building in Brooklyn, of all places, on a Friday night when he could have been somewhere - literally anywhere - else.

Tony grimaced as he stepped out of his car, only narrowly avoiding a dirty puddle.  Glancing around, he sighed at the attention he was attracting.  It’d probably be all over the 5 o’clock news that Tony Stark was slumming it in Brooklyn.  

He tipped his head back and mentally girded himself for the conversation he was about to have.  “Hey, Happy?”

“Yeah, Boss?”  Happy replied as he shut the door behind Tony.

“Keep the car running and feel free to taze anyone who gets too close to it, okay?  Hopefully this won’t take long.”  He just had to go in, extend the invitation and accept Steve’s rejection.  Ten minutes tops.

The bigger man huffed in amusement.  “Sure, Boss.”

The inside of the apartment building didn’t inspire any more confidence than the outside had.  It was clean, at least, but it was also run down and cramped.  There wasn’t an elevator and the stairs looked worn and decrepit.  Tony made a face as he headed up.  Of course Steve had managed to find the one apartment building in New York that hadn’t been updated since the war.

SHIELD files said that one S.Rogers lived on the third floor of the building and that all of his neighbors had been vetted and deemed non-hostile.

But the middle-aged man glaring at him as Tony finally made it up the last flight seemed awfully hostile to him.

Ignoring the suspicious scowl, Tony rapped his knuckles against the door three times before tucking his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels.  If Steve didn’t hear and didn’t answer the door?  Even better.  He could go back and tell Pepper and the others that he hadn’t even been allowed in to make the offer.  That, after all, could hardly be considered his fault.

In his head, he started counting.  A hundred.  That was a good number.  Nice and round.

He’d only gotten up to twenty-five and started drifting into a new theory of calculus before he could hear the lock bolt being pushed back and another two before the door cracked open and Steve peered at him through the open space.

“Stark?”  Blue eyes seemed to sear into him for a moment before the door was opened fully and he was greeted with the sight of over six feet of beautiful male muscle wrapped up in a plain, tight white t-shirt and a ragged pair of flannel pajama pants.  “Is something wrong?  I didn’t get an alert on my comm.”

Tony couldn’t help really it.  He was a little distracted by the way Steve filled out the too-small clothes for too long for it to go unnoticed.  Pepper had said he couldn’t touch without permission now that they were official and monogamous and all, but window-shopping… That was something else entirely.  Whatever else he was, there was no doubting that Steve Rogers was a damned fine man.

He was also blushing faintly when he snapped a finger under Tony’s nose and waved his hand upwards.  Despite that, his voice was more amused than not.  “My face is up here, Stark.”

Tony grinned.  He wasn’t going to apologize for ogling what was so openly displayed.  “You should really get a proper tailor, Spangles.  You’re about to burst some seams there.”

Rolling his eyes, Steve stepped back and waved Tony inside.  “No emergency, then?”

“Nope.  Just came over for a chat.  Say, I don’t suppose you have any bourbon?  No?  Vodka?”

“It’s 10’o clock in the morning, Stark.”  And there was the prissy, holier-than-thou nose wrinkle that made Tony want to be as inappropriate as he could possibly manage.  Steve sighed and led the way through the impossibly tiny living room into the kitchen proper.  Tony suspected the entire apartment could have fit into his own bedroom.  Really, how did anyone live like that?  “I have water, milk, or juice.  There may, possibly, be some cola somewhere.  Clint brought some over the last time he was here.”

“Clint was over?”  Tony pursed his lips and fought the urge to frown.  It wasn’t any of his business what any of the others did as long as it didn’t involve blatant destruction of his own property.  And even then, he couldn’t always be bothered to care.  All in good fun, right?

“Not recently, but yeah.  Clint and Natasha both stop in to check on me from time to time.”  Steve wasn’t exactly at parade rest where he was leaning against the refrigerator, but he wasn’t exactly relaxed, either.  “Pretty sure SHIELD’s convinced I’m one iPhone commercial from burying myself back in the arctic.”

That drew a snort of amusement out of Tony and he waggled his finger at Steve.  “See, I can understand that.  Apple is enough to make anyone run screaming, but Windows is even worse.  I mean really.  The awful frankenstein that is windows 8, like what are they trying to themselves out of business? I can do that myself, they just have to say 'pretty please' ..and seriously a jail has more freedom than Apple...did you know that?  Well, no, obviously you don’t.  But just trust me.  Stark tech.  Sunshine and happiness.  Freedom and eagles.  Whatever metaphor you need to make you believe my tech will make your life a thousand percent happier ”

A faint grin tilted the edges of Steve’s lip, there but just barely.  “S’pose so.  Juice?”

Wrinkling his nose, Tony shook his head and turned away, poking at a loose stack of sketchpads on the table.  It was tidier than anything in his own lab, but it was the only thing in the apartment that seemed to be remotely out of place and he couldn’t help but straighten the stack before moving over to where an easel had been set up near the window.  The lighting was atrocious despite the sunny weather.  The current canvas was a neatly done portrait of a young woman with blonde hair and blue eyes.  She was somewhere between average and pretty, her eyes tired, but somehow kind.  “Who’s this?”

“My mother.”

Tony drew his hand back where he’d reached out to touch and glanced back at the super soldier.  Steve was simply watching him, calm and unassuming, not pushing for the reason Tony had come or seeming particularly upset by his curiosity.  

Now that it had been pointed out, he could see a vague resemblance.  “It’s good.  I mean… Are you drawing completely from memory or do you still have any pictures?”

Steve just tapped his own skull.  “Eidetic memory.”

That hadn’t been in any file that Tony had ever seen.  

“Did the serum do that or… what?”  Tony’s voice trailed off and he made a vague rolling gesture with his hand.  

“Good enough before, but the serum did the rest.”

Tony waited to see if that would be expounded on, but no.  The other man just lapsed back into watchful silence.  It was like pulling teeth trying to get the man to have a civilized conversation.  Maybe that was why it was so easy to start poking and prodding for more aggressive responses.

Rolling his eyes, Tony turned back to take in the other canvases that were leaning against the wall in small stacks.  He could see a few more portraits and a train coming out of a tunnel on a snowy mountainside.  Another looked like it might have been Coney Island, though Tony wasn’t positive.  He hadn’t even been to the modern Coney Island.  He certainly didn’t know what it had looked back in days gone by.  “This what you do all day?  Sit up here and paint the things and people that you remember?  No wonder you’ve got the SHIELD shrinks all in a tizzy.  Pretty sure they want you to mingle with the modern world.”

Tony left the paintings alone and headed towards the kitchen.  The refrigerator was about as old as could possibly be found while still using Freon to operate.  “You do realize that this thing is probably in violation of a dozen health and safety codes, right?”

Steve shrugged. “Works well enough.”

That watchful look was starting to make Tony uncomfortable again as he sifted through Steve’s cabinets.  There were basic groceries.  It was all simple stuff, nothing Tony would ever eat.  Nothing that required a microwave, either, which was good since there didn’t seem to be one.  “My god, seriously?  Okay. No.  You know what?  Pepper was right.  Natasha was right.  This is unacceptable.  Inhumane, even.  Pack your bags.  You have a room in the tower and it’s about damned time you used it.”

That just got him an arched brow in response.

“No, seriously.  Shoo.  Go.  Put real clothes on.  Pack.  Hut to.  Happy is waiting downstairs.  Get what you need for the night and we’ll send movers for anything else later.  I highly suggest donating the furniture to charity, though.  You won’t need it.”

“Came with the apartment.”  

“Even better.”

Steve still wasn’t moving, so Tony headed towards what had to the bedroom - it wasn’t an invasion of privacy if the door was wide open, no matter what Pepper said otherwise - and began pulling the meager wardrobe that the soldier owned out of the drawers.

There was an old Army duffle bag and a newer sports bag with a SHIELD logo on it sitting in the corner, so he grabbed those and began stuffing the clothes inside without any regard for order or whether or not things were wrinkling.

It was all cotton.  Who cared if it wrinkled?

A picture caught his eye and he glanced up, curious.  Tucked into the upper corner edge of the mirror attached to the dresser was a picture of a group of World War II soldiers.  Steve was easy to recognize, grinning loose and easy at the camera with his arm around a slick, mischievous looking fellow.  They were all dirty and tired, obviously just in from one mission or another, but it was hard to imagine that Steve being that relaxed with anyone.

“What are you doing, Tony?”  Steve asked, from the doorway.  He’d only come in far enough to lean against the doorjamb and the searching look was back - worse than the simple watchful one from the kitchen.  That was the look that rubbed Tony just the wrong way, the one that looked for someone else in his features.

He chose to ignore it and went back to tossing Steve’s clothes in the bags.  There wasn’t much, not even enough to fill up one of the bags, so he tossed the other at Steve.  The soldier caught it easily enough, his eyes never leaving Tony’s face.  

“I’m packing your stuff since you can’t seem to manage it.”

Steve sighed.  “Why do you want me to move into the Tower?”

“Why not?” Tony asked, flippant as he tugged the nightstand drawer open as much out of general curiosity as to see if there was anything that needed to be packed.  There was only a single worn Bible with a sheet of sketch paper tucked into the pages.  

“That isn’t a reason.”  

“Everyone else is there?  Even Thor has been in and out since they got the rainbow bridge to Oz all fixed up and he’s been able to make the trip back.  I left the A up, you know.  It’s not official yet, but I’m renaming it Avengers Tower.  It has a nice ring to it, I think. And hey, it’s smart for a central headquarters that isn’t SHIELD’s invisible hellicarrier.”

“Tony… Why would you… are you-”

“Oh my god, stop looking at me like that!”

Steve blinked, looking uncertain for the first time since Tony had slipped into the door.  “Like what?”

“Like you’re expecting my fucking father.  I’m not Howard, okay?  I’m just.  I’m not and no amount of you wishing I was is going to change that, okay?  Now pack your damned stuff and come back to the Tower with me so that everyone will chill out.  Okay?  Good.”  Tony slammed the drawer shut with one hand, the Bible still clutched in the other.  He wasn’t particularly religious himself, but it made sense that Steve was.

Of course he was.  Mr. White Bread Apple Pie American Way wouldn’t be anything else.

“I don’t expect you to be Howard,” Steve sighed softly, finally pushing away from the door.  “I’m sorry if I’ve made you think that.”

Tony pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose.  “You do it all the time.  You have no idea how irritating it is.  I get it.  You guys were friends. Good on you.  Whatever.  You were apparently the only person he ever really liked, so that makes sense. But I’m not him.  I don’t even want to be and having you look at me like that… Like I should be... I gotta tell you it drives me in-fucking-sane, because-”

His words cut off abruptly when Steve covered his mouth with one massive paw.  

“Tony.  I barely knew Howard.  I promise you, I don’t expect or want you to be him.”  Another sigh, weary as anything Tony had ever heard, and Steve pulled the paper out of the Bible.  He let go of Tony and handed the paper over.  “You do look like someone I knew, someone that was important to me, but it isn’t Howard.”

The paper had obviously seen better days. With as yellowed and ratty on the edges as it was, Tony thought it was a pretty safe bet that it had come from before.  

He flipped it open and stared.  

There was a neat little signature and date in the corner informing him that the artist was S. Rogers and that it had been completed on Mar 23, 1938, long before Steve had managed to con his way into the military.

It was his own face, both playful and serene, peering back at him.  He was leaning against the base of a tree - a root, actually, more than anything else - smiling.  There was an impression of wind ruffling his hair away from his face as a trio of curious squirrels leaned in close to examine him.  They weren’t much smaller than he was and all around the central image there was the suggestion of feathers drifting away in the wind.  Under the squirrels, there were words.

Anthony meets the wildlife in Central Park.

“This is… Steve…”  Tony looked back up confused.  “Steve, this is me.  Well.. Sort of.  Tiny me.  Like, the about to get eaten by squirrels kind of small, but still.  It’s me.”

Steve nodded, eyes staying on the picture.  “I know.”

“No, no, no.  That is not what you’re supposed to say.  You’re supposed to say ‘No, Tony, that’s someone else that just looked an awful lot like you only pint-sized and just happened to have the same name.’  You are not supposed to agree with me.  This can’t be me.”

A snort of amusement and Steve finally looked up.  “It’s the truth.  I’m not going to lie about it to make you feel better.”  He hesitated for a moment before shrugging.  “I wouldn’t have said anything if you hadn’t brought it up.”

“But.  No.  Seriously, stop.  Even if that wasn’t completely against the laws of physics and you know, basic biology, this cannot be me.”  Tony sighed and sat down heavily on the bed, a corner of his mind noting with amusement that even Steve’s bed was perfectly made without a single edge out of place.  “Explain, because it’s kind of creeping me out right now.”

Rather than answer, Steve turned and left the room.  Tony could hear pages rustling for a minute and then still before Steve returned.  He held out another sheet of sketch paper.

It was another picture, this one newer.  The paper was nicer and there was actual color used in the inking.

He stared at it for a minute, taking in the details.

On the one side of the page, Steve wore the same battle armor that had been replicated for the Smithsonian’s World War II exhibit.  His hands were outstretched to catch a small pixie-like Tony that was flying towards him.  Man and pixie were both smiling, everything in their demeanor and expression saying that these were two people who had known each other through good times and bad and were always happy to see each other, no matter the circumstances.

The image had been mirrored on the other side. There was Steve as he’d been on the SHIELD plane when they’d been bringing Loki back, in his new Captain America outfit, expression softer and more welcoming than anything else Tony had seen there before.  One hand was held out, reaching for Tony in the Iron Man suit.  Tony looked uncertain, maybe a hint of something that bordered on aggravation in his expression.  It was an old friend reaching out for someone who clearly hadn’t gotten the memo that they were supposed to be friends.

The contrast between the images should have been the differences in Tony’s size and general outerwear, but it wasn’t.  It was the expressions.  

“I had other pictures before, but there wasn’t a lot of my old stuff left.  Natasha asked me about something I said once, about God.”  Steve shrugged and stuck his hands in his pockets.  “Hard not to believe when you’ve had proof your whole life, ya know?”

“I’m so confused,” Tony complained, able to hear the whine in his voice but unable to care.  

Steve smiled faintly and looked away, towards the window.  “So was I.  So… I went and asked.”

“You asked.”  He couldn’t help the skepticism in his voice.

“Prayed.  At the Church I grew up in.  Sometimes I get answers if I just ask.”  He took a deep breath, cheeks puffing out on the exhale as he seemed to pick through his thoughts.  “You know I wasn’t the healthiest child, right?”

“Yeah, Dad mentioned that.  None of the recruitment offices would take you, but Erskine liked your spunk.”

Steve offered him a grin before leaning back against the dresser and looking away again.  “My mother’s pregnancy was rough and medicine wasn’t what it is now, ya know?  So you took your ails to church and prayed.  A couple of weeks before I was born, she met a man there who promised her God looked after his own, especially the ones that had important things that needed doin’.  She told me that she didn’t really think anything off it until later.  I was four or so before the little blobs in the corners of all my drawings finally started taking on enough shape that she could tell it was meant to be another person.  She asked me about it and I explained that it was my friend Anthony who kept me company and made me feel better when I was sick.  It wasn’t strange to me because he’d always been there and I couldn’t understand why that was such a cause for concern.”

It was probably the longest monologue that Tony had heard from the man since they’d met, but maybe that was why.  Maybe whenever he spoke for longer than a few sentences, he couldn’t help but sound a little crazy.

“I’m surprised that she didn’t have you exorcised or something.”  Tony had never really bothered with history all that much - why would he even care when engineering and science were so much more fun? - but he’d seen enough movies to know that religion wasn’t kind to apparent mental illness.  

“She wouldn’t have.  She was smart and she had more faith than anyone I’ve ever known.  She told me about that the man she’d met was an archangel, Michael, and that he explained about guardian angels.  She said that was what she figured Anthony must be but that most people wouldn’t understand.  She made me promise I’d be more careful, that I shouldn’t talk about him around other people.  Anthony agreed.  She died not long after that.”  Steve’s voice trailed off, soft and sad as he spoke about his mother’s death.  “Anthony was the one that suggested that the Church was the best place to ask questions.  He couldn’t promise me that I’d get an answer, but it’s the place most likely to help the words reach the right ears.”

Tony twitched slightly, forcing back everything he wanted to say.  He didn’t believe in one Almighty God.  If God existed, why did He let people be so horrific to one another?  Why did He let fathers neglect their children?  It wasn’t fair for Steve to throw an entire lifetime’s worth of Tony’s disbelief out the window.

He took a deep breath and pushed the argument that was bubbling up away.  Now was not the time.  “So you went and asked why I look like your imaginary friend?”

Frowning, Steve shook his head.  “Anthony was there right up until everything went black, Tony.  My last memories of the past are of Anthony trying to soothe me while my body went into shock.  He was my best friend, the one true constant of my life.  Bucky came pretty close, but I didn’t meet him until I was past ten.”

“Semantics,” Tony replied, waving his hand as if he could wash all the words away.  “Focus.  Question.  Answers.  Did you get one or not?”

Steve’s lips took on a pinched look for a moment as he grimaced.  Then he sighed and nodded.  “Michael said that after I went down,-”

“Wait a minute.  Like.  Whose-it.  The archangel guy?”

“Yes.  Anthony tried-”

“No, seriously.  An archangel?  He just, what?  Showed up because you had questions?”  

“Apparently.”  The pinched look had returned.  “Do ya want the explanation or not?”

Tony held up in his hands in mock surrender.  “Hey, I’m just trying to clarify the sticky points.  You know.  Like archangels with nothing better to do than hang out with Captain America.  Or I dunno... existing at all.”

It was probably for the best that Steve just ignored that.  “Anthony tried everything he could to lead someone to me.  He managed to get Howard and Peggy both heading in the right direction mostly because they were already looking on their own.  Problem was, he was my guardian angel and no one else could see him.”

“He couldn’t, I dunno… whisper in their dreams or something?  Isn’t that what they do in the movies?  Talk to people in their sleep?  Whisper in their ears?”

He was unsurprised when Steve just rolled his eyes and continued.  

“He was already doing everything he could, but it wasn’t enough.  So he went to Michael and asked if there was a better way to interact with human beings.  The only thing left was to become human himself, to be born and live as a mortal man.”  Big hands gestured helplessly.  “I got the impression that you - he - forgot to ask about the side effects.”

His fingers tightened on the drawing, the edges of the paper crinkling under the force of his grip.  “I have never been anything other than human.”

Steve reached out like he was going to brush his fingers through Tony’s hair before he thought better of it and dropped both hands back down to his sides.  The move was aborted before Tony even had time to flinch back or react.  “You wanted to know why I keep looking at you like you’re someone from my past.  That’s why.  Believe it or not.  That’s your own choice.  I understand if the offer of the Tower isn’t open anymore.”

Tony huffed and pushed the drawings against Steve’s chest along with the bag of clothes.  “Please.  Like I’m going to let your mild version of crazy stay in this rattrap of an apartment.  Pepper and Natasha would both string me up by my toes.  Then they’d take turns doing unpleasant things to me.  You’ve only met Natasha, but I promise you that Pepper is every bit as vicious and deviously cunning.  Pairing the two of them up is just asking for global terror and domination, but what can you do?  They bonded over shoes.  Crazy visions of me when you were kid don’t get you out of doing what they say.”

For a long moment Steve just stood and watched, evaluating everything that was and wasn’t being said.  Tony held his breath, hoping the super soldier wasn’t about to call him on his bullshit or toss him out on his ear.  He didn’t have his suit - it was in the car - and that man in the hallway had looked pretty hostile.  

Then Steve’s lips quirked and his shoulders relaxed.  His eyes took on a mischievous light as he put the bag over his shoulder.  “You’re the one inviting a pair of super spies, a super soldier, a royal alien, and a Hulk to live with you, Stark.  I don’t think you get to judge anyone else’s levels of crazy.”

“Oh burn!  Maybe the Star Spangled Man with a Plan has a little game after all,” Tony crowed, delighted that Steve was poking back without the pissed off vicious edge that had underlain their earliest interactions.  

Snorting, Steve rolled his eyes.  “I punched Hitler in the face over 200 times.  I’ve got plenty of game.”

“Yeah, right.  Obviously living with everyone will be very beneficial to you.  We can update you to the right century, work on your delivery, and hey!  We might even manage to get you into some decent music.”

“I’ve heard that stuff you call music, Tony.”  Steve made a face.  “I don’t think any amount of exposure is going to make me a fan.”

Tony grinned.  “Oh ye of little faith.  Seriously.  There’s food, there’s entertainment, there’s big comfy beds.  You’ll love it.  I’ve got this thing in Malibu for a while, but after that?  One big happy family, seriously.  I uh… wouldn’t mention your childhood hallucinations, though.  Pepper, at least, will want to send you to a shrink.“

It took another few minutes to get Steve changed and out of the apartment, but it wasn’t awkward anymore.  For the moment, at least.

He waggled his fingers at the hostile looking man as they passed him by, but didn’t let that stop his running commentary on Pepper, the other Avengers, the Tower, and his bots.

For his part, Steve seemed content to follow behind and listen.  He asked questions that weren’t stupid - because no matter what self-help posters said, there were definitely stupid questions - and seemed to actually absorb the information that Tony offered.

It would be work to get everything settled into a good rhythm.  Tony doubted that Steve would be able to stop himself from looking at Tony and seeing someone else and Tony was absolutely sure it was going to bug the hell out of him, but it was better somehow to know that for once it wasn’t his father’s shadow he was falling under. A little better. Still weird and uncomfortable because, really?

He didn’t want to touch the idea of angels or gods of a non-Asgardian nature with a ten-foot pole. He could tell that Steve believed every word, though.

There’d be plenty of time tinker with that belief, to see how solid it was, to test the truth of it, once he got Steve back to the Tower.  He could figure out how to get around Steve’s Church-colored-glasses and work out the truth.  More aliens?  Clairvoyance?

He wasn’t sure whether those possibilities bothered him more or less than Steve’s explanation.

It was all too messy and vague.  There weren’t enough hard facts.  The equation didn’t make sense.

That was fine.  He could fix that.

He was Tony Stark, after all, and tinkering was what he did best.